Celebrating A Star Wars Day At Sea

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For this year’s Spring Break, my family and I decided to spend the vacation taking a cruise. Not just any cruise…but a Star Wars cruise! Actually it was a vacation on the Disney Cruise Line ship Disney Fantasy and on one of the days at sea, onboard festivities were devoted to Star Wars. The cruise by itself was fantastic with impeccable service and amenities, in short, a Disney cruise is well worth the money and despite it not being a theme park visit you do feel the Disney experience.

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The icing on the cake for myself, however, was the Star Wars aspect, of course. Even though the Disney Fantasy was themed after all things Disney, the presence of Star Wars was felt throughout the cruise even before the Star Wars Day at Sea.

20160320_135155For starters there was the merchandising; the gift shops sold the typical Star Wars toys and paraphernalia that can be found just about anywhere on the planet. However, the stores did have moderate to expensive clothing, accessories and other keepsakes like art printings, t-shirts, shoes, magnets and bags. Then there were other collectibles near the ship’s theaters.

The Disney Fantasy has two theaters that played live musical productions and films as well. Of interest to fans was that the entire Star Wars saga was shown at various times throughout the cruise. It was a lot of fun sitting down and watching the films again on the big screen with like-minded audiences while munching on popcorn.

During the actual Star Wars Day at Sea, the Star Wars property took center stage, which was on a Wednesday, the halfway point of the cruise vacation. Throughout the Disney Fantasy, iconic music from the films were played and the ship’s horn blared out the infamous “Imperial March” at certain times of the day. Many passengers were decked out as their favorite Star Wars characters. Several took part in a costume celebration where they got to mingle with other fans or with the Star Wars characters that patrolled the ship.

The characters were well done and looked 20160323_122420_resizedauthentic, but more importantly stayed in character. For instance, Jawas popped out of nowhere near the atrium and tried to steal jewelry and other personal effects from passengers (it was all in good fun, mind you). Villainous characters like Darth Maul or Boba Fett silently intimidated passengers as they posed for pictures. However, Darth Vader took the prize for the most authentic recreation. Not only was the costume spot-on perfect, but he actually spoke to one young member in my party with James Earl Jones’ distinctive voice as he mocked the rebels.

On the Star Wars Day at Sea both theaters hosted Star Wars-related events. At the Walt Disney Theatre, for most of the day the production/attraction seen at Walt Disney World and Disneyland called Jedi Training: Trials at the Temple was shown. This is the one where a Jedi Knight teaches young Padawans on how to use the Force to defeat Darth Vader (who also appears and fences briefly with each youngling). The other theater, the Buena Vista Theatre, presented a Guest Speaker Series featuring Joel Aron, the special effects guru for Star Wars Rebels. The same theater also had a Star Wars-related PowerPoint presentation called Star Wars 101, which actually helped members of my party get caught up on the intricacies of Star Wars and was presented with lots of enthusiasm.

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D23 Expo Highlights: Star Wars, MCU, Theme Parks & More

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Disney had their own version of Comic-Con this past weekend with their D23 Expo held in Anaheim. As can be guessed, the convention was related to all things under the Disney umbrella and what’s coming up. The highlights from D23 Expo dealt with exciting theme park and genre film developments.

Star Wars

Many fans were disappointed that there wasn’t a new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but were titillated with the reveal of a Drew Struzan movie poster for the film and an official cast photo for the first Star Wars Anthology film Star Wars: Rogue One. There was also confirmation that Colin Trevorrow, the director of the mammoth hit Jurassic World, will direct Star Wars Episode IX. But the juiciest revelations had to do with the expected and highly anticipated Star Wars Land to be built in Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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Ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm and all of its intellectual property from George Lucas a few years ago, fans have impatiently waited for some kind of expansion of Star Wars in the Disney parks beyond Star Tours. Yes, the famous simulator ride had been updated with new, random scenes recently, but aside from Jedi Training Academy and the popular Star Wars Weekends, it seemed as if Disney hadn’t really paid a lot of love to its newest IP acquisition. Meanwhile, its rival Universal Studios Orlando stunned and dazzled Harry Potter fans with its meticulously developed Harry Potter lands in their parks.

That all changed with the announcement. Finally, Disney will have a worthy answer to Harry Potter with an equally revered IP. The Star Wars Land (note: it wasn’t called that in the announcement) will be 14 acres, which will feature a cantina and an immersive Star Wars environment on a new planet similar to what Universal did with Diagon Alley and Hogswart. There will be two new E-ticket rides, one will allow visitors to pilot the Millennium Falcon (most likely some kind of simulator ride), while the other will be based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There will be another update to Star Tours that will include a destination from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an updating of Jedi Training Academy, and an interactive experience called Star Wars Launch Bay. This attraction will be in pavilions in both parks that will feature meet and greets, exhibits and stores, of course. The only drawback to these ambitious plans is that when it came to the time table for all of this the only answer was “coming soon”. Just thinking out loud here, but Disney should take heed on how quickly Universal builds its new attractions. Some of us would like to have something open before this decade ends!

Marvel Cinematic Universe

strangeThe two items that are keeping fans salivating had to do with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. With the latter, Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige introduced concept art (Doctor Strange begins filming later this fall) that featured a classic look for the sorcerer that includes his red cape and Eye of Agamotto. A trailer for Captain America: Civil War was unveiled, which, of course, no one that didn’t attend D23 Expo could see. There are tons of fake “leaked” trailers out now on YouTube and the smattering of legit ones are taken down too fast to bother linking to, but rest assured as soon as its released to the masses, you can see it here. Based on the descriptions, it sounds like an awesome film and it could be part of the reason why DC/Warner Bros. moved their own superhero civil war flick to another date.

Theme Park News

The other major announcement regarding the Disney theme parks was that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will build a Toy Story Land for the young and young at heart. At 11 acres, this land will have two new rides (a spinner ride and a family coaster), expand Toy Story Mania, which is probably the best news because the wait times for that attraction is beyond ridiculous (and frankly not worth the wait). No time frame was given as to when this will happen. But based on the other big construction needed for Star Wars Land, Disney might as well shut down Disney’s Hollywood Studios until all of this is finished. They may finish ahead of schedule that way, make fans even happier, who will more likely spend money sooner.

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Speaking of slow construction, the Avatar Land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is still chugging along. At least with this expansion we have an actual opening date (2017). For anyone that doesn’t know, there will be two attractions based on Avatar, one is similar to the popular Soarin’ ride and will allow visitors to fly over the skies of Pandora, and the other attraction will be a boat ride.

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Here’s some news that will rankle North American Marvel fans, Hong Kong Disneyland will have an Iron Man ride. Similar to Star Tours, the Iron Man Experience will feature the Golden Avenger facing off against the forces of Hydra in Hong Kong. Sounds great for anyone who has an updated passport and the money and time to burn. Look, we understand that there can’t be any Marvel rides in Walt Disney World, but couldn’t they have this slotted for Disneyland? That agreement between Disney and Universal only applies to rides east of the Mississippi.

Upcoming Films

Disney had presentations for its upcoming film slate and the announcements were fast and heavy. New animated films include Gigantic, Moana, Zootopia, live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast, Ghost in the Shell, and The Jungle Book, a remake of Pete’s Dragon, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Alice Through The Looking Glass. Part of the presentation focused on Pixar, which showcased The Good Dinosaur and announcements for Cars 3, The Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, Coco (based on the Dia de los Muertos festival), and Toy Story 4. This fourth film in the franchise will be more of a love story and will be about Woody looking for his lost love Bo Peep. The Pixar stuff is exciting except for the third go around with Cars. But marketing types at Disney would disagree with that!

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All these announcements and presentations at D23 Expo confirm that Disney isn’t resting on its laurels. The next few years will be exciting times for fans, at least when it comes to films. The theme park components will pay off at a much later date.

 

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley Opens At Universal Studios Orlando

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The big news regarding theme parks of course was the July 8 opening of Diagon Alley, the new expansion of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando. Based on the popular Harry Potter book and film series Diagon Alley is an immediate hit with parkgoers and Harry Potter fans. The newest land added to Universal Studios Orlando consists of the hidden wizarding alley found in London, England. Adorned with cobblestone streets and maze-like alleyways and streets, Diagon Alley boasts several shops and as the centerpieces Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts ride and the Hogswarts Express train that connects Universal Studios Orlando with Islands of Adventure.

After the runaway success of Islands of Adventure’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an expansion was fastracked by Universal Resorts. But instead of just encroaching the faithfully recreated Hogsmeade village into other areas of Islands of Adventure, the innovative idea of putting the expansion into Universal Studios Orlando was utilized instead.

Expressway To Both Parks

100_2309The expansion can be found next to Disaster! at the area where the old Jaws ride was located. Visitors coming to the area will first see a replica of a section of modern-day London complete with a train station that leads to the Hogwarts Express and the magical Knight Bus featured in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. To gain entry to the train ride, you need a two-park ticket otherwise you are forced to remain in Diagon Alley and vice versa. The train itself is a perfect rendition of the one seen in the Harry Potter films and can accommodate large amounts of passengers.

Once assigned to a roomy cabin, the first thing that strikes the eyes is the passenger-side window that is actually an HD screen showing a brick wall with steam rolling about. On the aisle-side of the cabin, the windows are frosted. After the train leaves, passengers can look out the window and see the London cityscape and surrounding suburbs, but with signs of the malicious Dementors afoot. Meanwhile on the aisle-side of the cabin, silhouettes of Harry Potter and other characters are seen walking back and forth. At one point the Dementors invade the train who are seen as silhouettes, but are quickly dispelled.

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After a few minutes the train reaches Hogsmeade (and shortly before, Hagrid himself appears outside the window striding a flying motorcycle) allowing passengers to disembark onto Islands of Adventure. If you want to go back to London and Diagon Alley, you have to leave the station (which is next to the twin rollercoaster ride Dragon Challenge) and get back on line with your two-park ticket handy. On the way back to London, passengers will witness magical creatures like the hippogriff and centaurs trouncing around the forest surrounding Hogsmeade. Either route provides a nice, comfortable ride between the parks. The character silhouettes and the passenger windows certainly add an interesting touch to the experience. Even though it isn’t an E-ticket ride, Hogswart Express is a novel way to transit the parks. Continue reading

Transformers Ride Comes To Orlando

trans rideI had the chance to go to Orlando recently and made a stop at Universal Studios Orlando. The theme park’s newest attraction is Transformers: The Ride–3D, which opened on June 20th. This is the third incarnation of the ride, the first two being in the Universal Studios parks in Singapore and Hollywood. Our contributor GEO raved about this ride last year when it opened in Hollywood, so I was very excited to try it.

After standing in line for over an hour in the summer heat and finally riding it, I’ll have to say that Transformers: The Ride–3D was underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, the pre-show and the setup are topnotch. But I wasn’t into the ride; something kept nagging me about it for the rest of the morning. Later that day, I went to Islands Of Adventure nearby and once there I realized what was wrong with the Transformers ride. I saw the sign for Islands Of Adventure’s attraction The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man and it hit me. The Transformers ride is a near copy of the Spider-Man ride!

For anyone who hasn’t experienced the Spider-Man ride, you get into a vehicle and put on 3D glasses. Then the vehicle zips off and you witness Spider-Man in huge 3D screens fighting his enemies as the car zooms from one spot to another. The entire thing gives the impression that you’re part of the scenes. This was revolutionary back in 1999 when the park first opened, and it still is. It is incredible that none of the rides since then have copied it, until the Transformers did it.

evacI guess I would’ve enjoyed Transformers: The Ride–3D more if it didn’t copy many moments from the Spider-Man ride. One example is when the vehicle you’re on is supposedly freefalling and saved before hitting the ground.

Don’t ask about the story, the ride follows the style of those awful Michael Bay films in that it’s confusing, loud and too much is going onscreen. It had something to do with the evil Decepticon robots led by Megatron trying to get something called the Allspark for who knows what reason. My friends told me this doohickey was featured in the films and is the soul of the Transformers.

There are appearances by the good Autobots like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee who help out your vehicle, who is actually an Autobot called Evac. To be honest, aside from some audio and a few shots of CG hands in the screen in front of me, I could barely tell we were riding inside a robot. Evac didn’t have much of a personality, he wasn’t like Bumblebee for sure.

The ride is largely a tug of war between Evac and Megatron, as the Allspark keeps switching hands. In the meantime, there are lots of explosions, slow motion shots and machinery being crunched and twisted. Probably the best thing about this ride is that it didn’t feature Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf)!

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Maybe Transformers: The Ride–3D might’ve left more of an impression if it was more original in its moves or had better special effects. It was obvious that CG was used in the scenes and I wonder how these effects will hold up in the future. I think they’ll probably look dated before long.

Tranformers fans should love the ride, but I liked Transformers: The Ride–3D better when it was a Spider-Man ride.

Annette DeForrester